Isis Threaten Sylvania, a series of images by the artist Mimsy, has been removed from the Passion for Freedom exhibition after its content had been deemed ‘potentially inflammatory’. The work, which consists of seven pieces, depicts children’s dolls from the Sylvanian Families collection living in a peaceful community, however their society is at risk by the ominous presence of ‘MICE-IS’ – jihadi cats and koalas that lurk in otherwise wholesome settings such as the beach, a school and a beer garden, in which the Sylvanian civilians, unaware of the threat, are enjoying themselves.
Curators from the Passion for Freedom exhibition have claimed that the images did little but mock the terrorist organisation as well as making light of the threat they pose to society, implying that the images had nothing positive to offer. This has resulted in Passion for Freedom removing its advertised ‘uncensored’ statement.
That the organisation which censored this art exists so as to support freedom of expression not only displays a sad irony, it also emphasises the fear, as opposed to hope, that ISIS have been able to instil. The exhibition seems to misunderstand the nature of its own work.
While on the one hand, the images display the cruel nature of ISIS, a constant presence in a peaceful society and the taint they bring to our perceptions, they serve a further purpose. In none of the paintings do the civilian Sylvanian dolls show any awareness of the threat that ISIS pose. They are ignorant of the harm that they have been subjected too.
The exhibition has discontinued the showing of the images due to the cost of security that the police dubbed necessary for protection and to deter any potential attack. The hypocrisy of the Exhibition for discontinuing the display may be sensible economically and politically, but the wider rationale of accepting the threat of ISIS and responding with silence is an unsettling approach. It is common consensus that ISIS serve as a threat to liberty and society’s well-being and that their access to us is more concentrated than our response. There is therefore, something to be learned from in these images.
ISIS Threaten Sylvania is in no way vulgar. It attempts to express existing tensions without going out of its way to provide a normative stance either towards society or the way we feel or think. In an exhibition which distinguishes itself through political neutrality, there shouldn’t be a hidden agenda to fear and the acceptance of the exhibition to scrap access to the images runs contrary to this. There can be no progress on countering terrorism so long as we allow it to influence the boundaries we set for our colleagues.